Why a Great Thesis Doesn’t Always Make a Great Book | Lex Academic Blog

One of the most common reasons why publishers reject proposals for PhD-derived monographs is that they give the impression that the author does not understand the difference between a thesis and a book. Indeed, the prospect of a book that is ‘too thesis-like’ is enough for some publishers to refuse PhD-derived projects altogether, while the remark that a book ‘too closely resembles a thesis’ is a frequent criticism made by reviewers. The title of this post is not intended to imply that a good thesis equals a bad book. Our point is that turning a thesis into a book usually involves more work than, for example, merely converting the bibliography to the publisher’s house style. In this post, we will look at the similarities and differences between theses and books.

Both a thesis and a book must be thoroughly researched, coherently structured, and cogently argued. A thesis that meets these criteria is an ideal starting point for a book. Both are also vital for pursuing an academic career. A PhD is a prerequisite – the qualification that opens the door to academia. In the increasingly competitive academic job market, a book, along with several peer-reviewed journal articles, is often the most important requirement for obtaining a permanent lectureship, at least in the humanities in UK academia. In this sense, making a thesis as book-like as possible is sound strategy.

The difference between a thesis and a book can be summarised thus: a thesis has to pass; a book has to sell. To pass, a student must showcase their mastery of the relevant literature and methodology of their discipline, and typically make a move within the debates described. This requirement takes a backseat in a book, which focuses instead on foregrounding the author’s own original view. To sell, a book must be accessible to a wider range of readers – including undergraduates and academics in other fields, as well as established researchers in one’s own discipline – than the thesis from which it is derived, which is read by only a few specialists (supervisors, examiners, etc.). This usually means reducing the breadth of theoretical material and/or making fewer theoretical concepts more transparent. This is not about ‘dumbing down’ research; it is about making research meaningful to a broader audience. In the humanities, which are often credited with being relatable to people, this seems a particularly worthwhile endeavour. In this sense, as unpalatable as the need to sell is to some academics, turning a thesis into a book can enhance its scholarly quality.

The need to broaden access may result in stylistic differences between a thesis and a book. In a book, it can be helpful, for instance, to focus on clarity rather than complexity. There can be a temptation in academic writing to demonstrate one’s command of a subject by relying on abstract language when discussing concepts that are already abstruse. Focusing on presenting your arguments and evidence as clearly as possible can, however, make writing more accessible and be more effective in terms of developing an authorial voice. Title forms may also have to be revisited. A thesis title may be long, specific, and technical. A book title will need to be shorter and contain keywords that readers are likely to put into a search engine.

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